Saturday, March 20, 2010

Steelhead Fishing March 2010

Bruce with his native hen (28 inches)

Last year, during spring break, Tyler, Corey and I fished for steelhead, on the Wallowa River, for 10 hours straight. I finally hooked three that evening, landing one, a nice 25 inch buck. Tyler landed two small rainbows that day, both hatchery fish, and Corey hooked a few small ones in the morning, but never landed any. We had gone down the day before to check out water conditions and see if anyone was catching fish. The ladder at Deer Creek was full of fish and it really got their hopes up! So when the day ended without them catching a true steelhead, they both cried as we left. This year I was hoping to return and give them a chance to redeem themselves. We invited Kim's dad, Bruce, and her brother,Kyle, to come along. I've been talking with them since Kim and I got married 14 years ago, about heading to La Grande, Oregon, and doing some fishing with me. This year we finally made it.

This year's run is HUGE! Over 623,000 fish came up the Columbia this last fall. The record run was set some years ago at 631,000 fish; unbelievable! Steelhead have been in the upper river since late last fall. There are so many fish they upped the daily bag limit from three to five fish per day! With big numbers of fish, and lots of people catching them, I figured this would be the perfect year to take some new-comers out and get them hooked on steelhead.

We left Wednesday, the 10th of March, after school let out, for Rupert, Idaho. The plan was to meet my in-laws at an in-laws house. We left Burley around 8:15 pm and were to La Grande around 1 am. It was a nice drive down without any mishaps (accept being pulled over just after turning off the freeway down the Island City Strip for having a license plate light out). We got up the next day and got our licenses, more gear, and food. My dad took Thursday and Friday off to fish with us. I have been trying to get him to steelhead fish for almost 20 years. He watched me hook and land that 25 inch buck last spring, and he decided this was something he wanted to try out.

Our Camp at Minam Park

We camped at Minam Park in Dad's 14 x 12 foot canvas wall tent with a wood stove. It was nice to not have to drive back and forth every morning and evening, especially since we fished from daylight to dark. After setting up camp we headed out fishing, unfortunately my dad had to go back to La Grande for a Boise Cascade dinner. We headed down river and spread out in all the good looking holes. Everyone we talked to that day had caught over 10 steelhead, they said jigs had out fished eggs, and they were severely infected with perma-grins!

I'd never fished this part of the river before, so I just kept walking down river, past Polecat and on to Red Rock. There was just one guy there so I slipped in above him and started fishing. I fished for an hour or so with out a bite (I was using eggs under a slip bobber), when the guy next to me hooked and landed a nice fish. Just after that the family showed up and I hooked a good fish right in front of me. I gave the rod to Tyler and he broke the fish off in grand style. It wrapped the line around a big rock and cut the line. I retied and hooked another immediately from the same run. Corey landed the 22 inch buck. We tagged it and then fished till dark without anymore action.

Our First Fish of the Trip
The next morning Matt and my dad showed up at 5:30 am. Other fisherman had pulled up a half an hour before, and had waded down river to get a spot. We hurried into our waders and raced down the tracks. My father-in-law's hips were hurting from the day before, so he and Corey fished the big hole at the top end of the camp ground. Bruce hooked two, but lost both of them. Corey went fishless that morning. Kyle and Tyler stopped at Polecat and fished there all day. Dad, Matt, and I headed for Red Rock. Dad hooked up within an hour, landing a nice 26 inch hen, she was a fin-clipped keeper! His first steelhead on his new rod! He was as hooked as that fish. He landed another a half an hour later (another keeper, this time a 28 inch hen). I went up to check on Ty and Kyle, and when I was gone, Dad and Matt hooked and landed one each (both keepers and both bucks).

My Dad's First Steelhead!

My Dad's Second Steelhead

When I got up to Tyler he had a 30.5 inch buck on the bank. A guy named Glen Smith, from Pendleton, Oregon, had hooked it while fishing next to Tyler and let him land it. Then he took Tyler under his wing and showed him how to catch steelhead. They made a great team! Tyler landed nine fish in the 2.5 days of fishing, hooking six of them on his own. He tagged the 30.5 inch buck, a 28 inch hen, a 32 inch buck, and a 24 inch buck that day. He let one go because it wasn't fin-clipped, and the other so he could keep fishing.

Tyler with his 30.5 and 32 inch Bucks
The 30.5 inch buck by itself

Matt and dad had to be back by 4 pm for a hunter's safety course Matt's oldest daughter was in. So I walked up with them and took care of the fish. When I got back to camp I found Bruce and Corey there. Bruce started cooking dinner (dutch oven potatoes, steak, etc.) and I took Corey back down river with me.

Kyle's 27 inch keeper
When I got down there, Kyle was about to give up! He was really depressed, having fished for around 15 hours without a fish. He'd watched Tyler and everyone else on the river land a fish around him. But he couldn't buy a bite! But lady luck finally smiled on him and he hooked and landed a 27 inch buck just before dark! It was awesome! It really made the trip for him. I was really happy to see him get one.
Kyle's Steelhead

Corey holds the record for the most snags, most jigs, bobbers, sinkers, and swivels lost, as well as the most water fished! He runs from hole to hole casting a few times and moving on. If someone catches a fish he will quickly be found at their elbow, edging them out of their spot! He would snag up, ask for help, I'd hand him my rod and work on his. In the meantime he would snag mine up and I'd break us both off and have to retie for both of us. I finally was a little mean to him and he finally stood there and listened long enough to learn how to fish properly. Within 20 minutes he hooked up on a sucker. I thought he had a steelhead and I was really let down when it surfaced. Ten minutes later, though, he hooked a 25 inch buck and landed it all by himself! It was a great keeper. I hooked two that night, but lost them as quick as I hooked them.

Corey's First Steelhead, Hooked and Landed by Him
Corey with his 27 inch Buck
We fished until dark, and then headed back for more pictures and a great dinner. Kyle and I stayed up until midnight tying jigs and getting fish taken care of. It was a long day. It snowed a really heavy wet snow that night and got really cold. It was nice to have the fire. It was so hot in the tent I was worried it would catch on fire!

Dad was back at 4:30 am, and we were on the river well before daylight in the top end of Polecat, where most of the fish were caught the day before. Kyle hooked one right away, but lost it. Tyler landed a 24 inch keeper, a buck, right after that and then I finally got into another fish. It was a beautiful, bright, native hen of 26 inches. A little while later I landed twin bucks, 27 inches a piece, and both fin-clipped. Then Tyler hooked and landed a 28 inch hen (also a keeper), and then Corey nailed a 27 inch buck all by himself. He was way down river from us and the people around him were yelling at us to come and help him. It was a keeper also. Bruce never did get one completely on his own, but Tyler hooked two fish for him. Bruce landed the one, a big native hen we photographed and let go. My dad hooked another strong fish just before we left and fought it for a while, but it pulled free.

Tyler's 28 inch Hen on Saturday Morning
Me and my sons with our fish
Tyler's 1st Steelhead on Saturday Morning--a 24 inch buck

My 26 inch Native Hen

One of the 27 inch Twins
It was a great weekend with great company, food, and fishing. The weather was pretty nice and the river was low and beautiful. I can't wait to get back. I'm writing this a week after it all happened, and my dad went back down today, hooking eight and landing five. Four were fin-clipped. MAN I'VE GOT TO GET BACK!

After Our First Day of Fishing